I’m co-teaching a class at my church on the sacraments right now. One benefit is that I have a reason to go back over the old reformed confessions. Here is the Belgic Confession (1561) on the Eucharist:
Now those who are born again have two lives in them. The one is physical and temporal — they have it from the moment of their first birth, and it is common to all. The other is spiritual and heavenly, and is given them in their second birth; it comes through the Word of the gospel in the communion of the body of Christ; and this life is common to God’s elect only.
Thus, to support the physical and earthly life God has prescribed for us an appropriate earthly and material bread, which is as common to all as life itself also is. But to maintain the spiritual and heavenly life that belongs to believers he has sent a living bread that came down from heaven: namely Jesus Christ, who nourishes and maintains the spiritual life of believers when eaten — that is, when appropriated and received spiritually by faith.
To represent to us this spiritual and heavenly bread Christ has instituted an earthly and visible bread as the sacrament of his body and wine as the sacrament of his blood. He did this to testify to us that just as truly as we take and hold the sacraments in our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths, by which our life is then sustained, so truly we receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior. We receive these by faith, which is the hand and mouth of our souls.
Now it is certain that Jesus Christ did not prescribe his sacraments for us in vain, since he works in us all he represents by these holy signs, although the manner in which he does it goes beyond our understanding and is uncomprehensible to us, just as the operation of God’s Spirit is hidden and incomprehensible.
Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ’s own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood — but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith.
In that way Jesus Christ remains always seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven — but he never refrains on that account to communicate himself to us through faith.
A) If people tell you reformed people do not believe in the real presence, you have my permission to throw a copy of the Belgic Confession at their head.
B) One of the things I love about Reformed eucharistic thought is the emphasis on the sacraments as divine accommodations. The idea is that the gap between a holy and infinite God and finite, fallible humanity is so great that the only way for mankind to know God is via divine accommodation to our smallness and physicality—and the fact that God willingly does this is proof of his love for us. The incarnation is obviously an example of divine accommodation. But so too are the sacraments. Note the way the Belgic handles this: “just as truly as we take and hold the sacraments in our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths, by which our life is then sustained, so truly we receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior.”
If you struggle with doubts that God loves you or that God can forgive you or the promises of the Gospel seem too remote, the Eucharist is a help to you. It says to us that just as certainly as we are tasting the bread and wine that is how certain our salvation is through Christ in the Gospel.
Thus one antidote to doubt and despair, in the theology of the Belgic Confession, is to participate in the Lord’s Supper, to taste the bread and the wine, and in the act of tasting to know that your salvation is as real and concrete as the food you’re tasting.